Commencement 2015

Photo: Michelle Smith-Lewis

Commencement Speech aka Love Letter to the Tears Cried in Public Bathrooms

by Kendra Mei Lee, Performance Production '15

There’s this wonderful poem by spoken word artist Anis Mojgani called Here Am I. In it, he says,
“We once wanted to be poor but not too poor.
Connecting this country like Kerouac and thumbs
pulling small town waitresses into back seats and trailer park homes
where the two of you would find passion expanding
between the locking of your bones
until morning would come to find you out on the road
with your pockets empty except for your hands
but your hands would be overflowing with your soul
but that’s not what happened.”

The poem is about all of the romantic notions we have about life that never come true.  

It’s sort of what my experience of the last four years was like.

College was supposed to be like television. I was supposed to move to a big city, meet a group of friends, have silly adventures with them: the one with the mannequin in the HOV lane, the one with the doppelganger hot dog vendor, the one with the 3 a.m.Sonic run.

It was supposed to be like a musical. Seven of us crammed in a tiny, crappy studio apartment with no heat save for the passion of our art.

I was supposed to study in the library all night during finals week and have philosophical discussions in giant lecture halls with wood panelled walls.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, a lot of the time, college hurt.

I can almost guarantee that every single person in this room has had their heart broken at least once since we all sat together in those pews at our first convocation.

Maybe your grandparents died. Or you fell in or out of love. Maybe you lost friends, figuratively or literally. Maybe you discovered something about yourself you didn’t want to know or lost faith in something that used to give you comfort.

I know that I did.

But I don’t think that makes the experience any less beautiful.

Because you know what else I did?

I burned love letters in the middle of Denny Park in the middle of the night with a group of girls who sang to the stars that we were enough.

I ate Taco Del Mar next to a statue of Chief Seattle and the golden changing leaves, silently, one fall day, with a boy I was in love with.

I made myself a home in a city I hardly knew four years ago, in coffee shops with baristas who learned what a “triple shot mocha” day signified, in knowing the difference between raincoat rain and “a hoodie will suffice” rain, in the arms of my teachers and of my friends.

And, most importantly, I found my passion. I found the one thing in this world I was meant to do. The thing that energizes me, that forces me to keep a notebook next to my bed so I can write down the ideas that come all night instead of sleep.I found something that I love more than free time or regular hours or guaranteed financial security.

I found myself.

I learned to stand on my own two feet.

And maybe that’s what the pain was for.

Because, no matter what we expected college to be, it was what it was.

This same group of people, fumbling our way through foundations classes, and having late night pizza and drafting parties in the dorm’s communal kitchen. Then trying out our stylistic training wheels and fighting with the smoke alarms in our first apartments. Then narrowing our focus to finally do what we intended to between 21 Runs on the Hill. And, eventually, crying over business plans and resumes before giving birth to the first thing we were truly proud of.

I want to congratulate all of you, even if I only know you by your Facebook name, because today is an accomplishment for all of us. Because, at some point, each of us was fighting to get here. Because there is no way it was always easy for anyone.

The best part of that Anis Mojgani poem is the ending. He says,
”what all of us wanted and what none of us got
what we all had and have
what we all forgot
that we all wanted to be something
that we all became something
and it might not be the shit we once thought it’d be when we were kids
but something is still something
and like some cats say
something’s better than nothing
feet are smarter than an engine
and dreams are stronger than thighs
and questions are the only answers we need to have to know that we’re as alive as the time when I had the mind of a child
asking why is 2 + 3 always equal to 5?
Where do people go to when they die?
What made the beauty of the moon and the beauty of the sea?
Did that beauty make you did that beauty make me?
Will it make me something?
Will I be something
Am I something?
And the answer comes:
already am
always was
and I still have time to be.”

Congratulations, class of 2015.

Be great.